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FORT SMITH -- A city committee is proposing a "spay or pay" approach to reducing the number of dogs and cats in the city that, if enacted, would charge an owner $500 for a license for a non-spayed or non-neutered dog or cat.

The Animal Services Advisory Board has sent to the city administrator's office a draft of changes to the city's animal ordinance that would institute a differential licensing system by which owners of unaltered animals would pay $500 a year for an "A" license and owners of altered dogs and cats would pay $10 a year for a "B" license. The system would include mandatory microchipping of pets.

A microchip is a tiny integrated circuit placed under the skin of an animal that, like a dog collar, carries a registration number through which the animal and its owner can be identified.

Microchipped animals allow animal control officers to identify at-large animals so they can be returned home rather than be taken to the animal shelter, and so dog owners can be cited for allowing their dogs to run at large.

"Differential licensing and microchipping, when combined with public access to low-cost spay-neuter services, is an effective means to reduce pet overpopulation and shelter intakes," veterinarian and board member Nicole Morton said Monday at the advisory board meeting.

City directors have not been scheduled yet to discuss the draft ordinance, City Administrator Carl Geffken said Tuesday.

Owners would register their dog or cat with the Animal Control Department, according to the draft ordinance. The animal's microchip would be scanned and the number entered into a database so the city could keep track of the animal and the owner. The city also would install the microchip if the animal didn't have one.

The microchip number would be the license number. The license would be good for a year, and renewal would be required.

If an animal control officer encounters an intact unregistered animal, the owner would be given a citation to come into compliance and pay the registration fee within 45 days or face a fine of $500. If the person didn't pay the fine, spay or neuter the animal or pay the "A" license fee, within 15 days after that, he would be charged with a misdemeanor.

"Eventually, word's going to get out that this is being enforced," Morton said.

Licenses could be revoked for persistent noncompliance under the draft ordinance, with the owner having chances to redeem himself anywhere along the process. Ultimately, the city could take the animal.

The ordinance draft concludes "the department has the authority to immediately dispose of the animal as determined by the Animal Control Department."

Fort Smith and the Hope Humane Society have been burdened by a glut of dogs and cats that is crowding twice as many animals into the humane society's shelter as it can hold.

The shelter holds the city's stray and abandoned dogs and cats under contract with the city. It has had to consider abandoning its no-kill policy because of the overcrowding. The shelter has resorted to exporting mostly dogs for adoption in other states that have effective animal control laws and are short of adoptable animals.

Before Saturday, when the shelter transported 31 dogs out of state, it held 503 dogs and 234 cats. There are so many animals that the shelter has to keep many in wire cages and stack them in every available space.

Board members and other officials have spent the past few weeks researching what steps other cities have taken to control their dog and cat populations.

Morton said the "A" licenses for unaltered animals would be for breeders, who she said profit from animal sales and who could afford the license fee. It also would be for those who won't take responsibility for their pets and let them breed uncontrolled.

Such behavior, Morton said, requires animal control officers to catch and transport stray dogs to the shelter, which costs taxpayers more than the $500 annual fee.

The city gets no reimbursement for the expense of dealing with a person's stray pet, board member Brandon Weeks said. When a person goes to pick up his animal at the shelter, he pays the shelter for housing the animal, but the city gets nothing.

The fees could go to pay those animal control expenses and, as the amount of money grows, it could be used to hire more animal control officers to add to the effort to reduce the animal population in Fort Smith, Morton said. It also could provide money for vouchers to help low-income residents pay to spay and neuter their pets.

State Desk on 10/31/2018

Print Headline: Fort Smith panel proposes animal fees

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